“Basic Economy” Credit Cards?

Airlines have already introduced Basic Economy seating, which gives you a lower fare in exchange for getting no seat assignment, boarding last, surrendering seven Constitutional rights of the airlines’ choosing, etc…

They seem to be expanding that model to other parts of the business, as well. For instance, we are getting the first of the BE credit cards. Traditionally, an airline credit card has come with an annual fee, which offsets the costs of the benefits and gives you a little skin in the game. Credit cards 2.0, however, come with no annual fee, since there are so few benefits to pay for. Let’s take a look:

United TravelBank

travelbank united

The TravelBank card, bank sold separately.

I have to admit, I’m having a tough time with this one. Not because they offer it, but rather, because anyone would sign up for it. (People will, of course.). It’s no fee. That’s great. There are a lot of no fee cards. It has a gimmick. That’s great, too. But it’s a gimmick that has been done better elsewhere, also for free.

The gimmick: You earn 1.5% back on all purchases, except for United purchases, when you earn 2% back. That credit is stored for you in you “United TravelBank,” where you can build a collection of credits toward your next flight.

Now, let’s compare this card to the Citibank Double Cash card, which gives you back 2% on every purchase, regardless of where you make it and in cash. So, by getting the United card, you are exchanging a half-percent on almost every purchase as well as the flexibility to spend it where you want. And while the Citibank card doesn’t give you 25% back on all in-flight food and beverage offerings on United flights, it does mean that you eat less airline food. Sorry, I’ll pass.

Delta SkyMiles Blue

delta, american express

To give credit where credit is due, Delta at least made a pass at offering some value on the Blue Delta Card. There’s no annual fee, but you do get a mile for every dollar spent, as well as a bonus mile per dollar at restaurants and on Delta flights.

You don’t get the flight benefits (free bag, priority boarding, etc.) that you do with the real card, and Delta miles are somewhat tough to value at a rate anywhere above a penny per mile, but at least you get a whiff at a bonus with this product. Most Delta cards, including those with an annual fee, only give you the double miles on Delta charges, not restaurants. Of course, this card only offers a 20% rebate on in-flight purchases.

One thing to watch on this card, from the T&C:

Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants whoHave or have had this product or the Delta SkyMiles® Options Credit Card, or Currently have or have had one of the following products in the last 90 days: Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, or Delta Reserve® Credit Card.

Of course, the sign-up bonus is only 10,000 miles, so you probably aren’t doing it for that reason.


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